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Morton, Samantha (1977-)


Main image of Morton, Samantha (1977-)

An uncompromising and highly distinctive actress with an intense, challenging presence, Samantha Morton represents the pinnacle of young British female acting talent. She was born on 13th May 1977 in Nottingham, and began her career at the age of 13, when she joined the Central Junior Television Workshop, eventually leaving school at 16 to act full time. She had early juvenile parts in such popular TV series as Boon and Soldier Soldier (both ITV, 1991), but made more substantial impressions in gritty TV shows such as Cracker (ITV, 1994) and especially the prostitution drama Band of Gold (ITV, 1995).

She soon moved to lighter fare, appearing as Harriet Smith in the Jane Austen adaptation Emma (ITV, 1996) opposite Kate Beckinsale's Emma, and as a startlingly dowdy heroine in Jane Eyre (LWT, 1997). She was also entertaining as Sophia Western in the raucous adaptation of Tom Jones (BBC, 1997). However, a more significant appearance came when she starred as the damaged, lonely Iris in the bereavement drama Under The Skin (d. Carine Adler, 1997), showcasing her ability to crawl inside a character to a startling degree.

This attribute was exploited by Woody Allen when he cast her as a mute girl in his jazz drama Sweet and Lowdown (US, 1999), a heartbreaking role for which she was Oscar-nominated. Ironically, she lost to Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted (Germany/US, 1999), a part Morton had herself rejected. She was very good in the addiction drama Jesus' Son (Canada/US, 1999) and a fittingly stable presence as Sara Coleridge in Julien Temple's overblown Romantic drama Pandaemonium (2000).

The next few years proved especially successful. She was quite brilliant as the protagonist of Morvern Callar (d. Lynne Ramsay, 2002), making an otherwise inscrutable and unsympathetic figure human and fascinatingly mercurial. Unsurprisingly, when she made her Hollywood debut, it was not as a damsel in distress or love interest, but as a psychic murder investigator in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi noir Minority Report (US, 2002), lending a haunting presence to the film's themes of betrayal and sin.

She was again Oscar-nominated for a warm and committed performance in the immigrant drama In America (Ireland/UK, d. Jim Sheridan, 2002), and was a powerful presence as the out-of-time heroine in the sci-fi love story Code 46 (d. Michael Winterbottom, 2003). She was the tender feminine counterpoint to the otherwise macho duelling of the protagonists in the Ian McEwan adaptation Enduring Love (d. Roger Michell, 2004), and strong (despite arguably being miscast) as the Earl of Rochester's protégé, the actress Elizabeth Barry, in The Libertine (d. Laurence Dunmore, 2004), opposite Johnny Depp as Rochester. Her appearance in Lassie (France/UK/US/Ireland, 2005) seemed out of kilter with much of her other work, although she brought her customary intensity to the stock role of the young impoverished mother. Her most significant appearance for some time, and a great test of her acting ability, will come when she plays Myra Hindley (opposite Andy Serkis as Ian Brady) in the already controversial biopic Longford (Channel 4, 2006).

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Under the Skin (1997)Under the Skin (1997)

Intense psychological drama about two bereaved sisters

Thumbnail image of Jane Austen's Emma (1996)Jane Austen's Emma (1996)

Lavish version of Austen's keenest novel

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